I spent quite a lot of time on the "We are the 99%" website last night and this morning. There's been a considerable amount of carping about it from the conservative side, and to be sure, some of the stories strain plausibility (the percentage of people in the sample who have either taken up prostitution, or claim to have seriously considered doing so, seems rather high, for instance, and as far as I could tell, not a single person on the site had been fired for cause). Many of the people complaining made all sorts of bad decisions about having children, getting very expensive "fun" degrees, and so forth. [Emphasis added--E.M.]I had to highlight that, because it comes up when you're talking to lots of people, even ostensible Catholics--the idea that one should really only have a child if one's own life plan is fully worked out, one has sufficient savings in the bank, one has enough to pay to raise the child to 18 and send him/her to a good college, etc. It's a subtle anti-child proposition, and it's also a damning indictment of our age, because in previous eras having a child was not the sole privilege of the rich, nor did one have to have a tidy portfolio or a 401K as a prerequisite for procreation. I think of my various ancestors, the ones who farmed and the ones who worked outside of agriculture, and I think: thank heavens none of them ever bought into the pernicious nonsense that is on display here. Sure, there are times when economic concerns may be a perfectly valid reason for a married couple to use NFP, but the notion that many Americans are out of work and hurting right now because of rampant and haphazard fecundity is beyond laughable.
But there's more:
I think it's hard to read through this list of woes without feeling both sympathy, and a healthy dose of fear. Take all the pot shots you want at people who thought that a $100,000 BFA was supposed to guarantee them a great job--beneath the occasionally grating entitlement is the visceral terror of someone in a bad place who doesn't know what to do. Having found myself in the same place ten years ago, I can't bring myself to sneer. No matter how inflated your expectations may have been, it is no joke to have your confidence that you can support yourself ripped away, and replaced with the horrifying realization that you don't really understand what the rules are. Yes, even if you have a nose ring.Because we all know that most if not all of the people out of work are the olfactory organ adorned recently-graduated creative fine arts or liberal arts types.
I had to stop reading some of the heartbreaking prayer request on a Catholic homeschool board (I still pray; I just couldn't read) about families where suddenly the father was out of work. These were men from all walks of life, working in jobs ranging from construction to education to corporate careers to science and technical fields. Many of them were not young, and many were the sole providers of good-sized families. The economic downturn has not spared any group of people except that group called the 1%--the wealthiest Americans.
And sometimes, in taking any job that came along, these men sealed their career fates. Nobody will call them back or talk to them now, now that they've been underemployed and barely hanging on for months or even years. Their former employers can outsource their jobs or hire H1-B visa workers at a fraction of the cost, and the new healthcare mandates won't affect overseas employees. For the employers, this sort of thing is a win-win. For a man in his forties or fifties who has been scraping by on an insufficient income for far too long, it is heartbreaking.
Some of our elites keep trying to push the idea that the only disgruntled, unemployed or underemployed people are people who really did this sort of thing to themselves. No. Our Ruling Class decided that American workers are just too costly, and that if they want to keep raking in huge stock market increases and massive CEO salaries and the other perks they're entitled to as members of the Ruling Class they had to kick the rungs out of the ladder to success on which far too many of hoi polloi were threatening to stand. Somehow the Average Joes out there were supposed to discern five or ten years ago that owning a home was no longer a good idea, that getting into debt for college was no longer a critical "investment" in one's future but a sucker's shell game, and that the phrase "...doing the jobs Americans won't do..." was referring to any job for which an American can't financially accept slave wages, a 24/7 work schedule, and frequent relocations on the employee's own dime.
The Wall Street protests may be just so much street theater, as many suspect they are. But the anger in America is real.